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Here are some puzzles from the 2017 Mystery Hunt that I found especially interesting or worthy of comment! I have more to say about puzzles earlier in the Hunt, since I did substantially more puzzling on Friday than Saturday—I stayed up late solving on Friday, and then because of that, on Saturday I was less focused and less involved.

  • Before and After MASH. A great example of a puzzle that's both well-written and entertainingly silly—we got a whole bunch of people gathered around a table calling out answers to clues and songs they recognized. I actually dropped some other puzzle to join in on this one once I started hearing people singing TV theme songs.

  • CHINA KILNS. Complex wordplay of the sort that I'm a little impressed to learn was constructible. Seeing that it is is exactly the sort of thing I go to the Mystery Hunt for (even though I only joined in on this one late, after it had been mostly solved). This is in a character round, which was the designated space for easy puzzles, but I think this one could just as well have gone in a quest round instead.

  • The Cleric metapuzzle. Every now and then we start to worry that the range of good ideas for pure metas (i.e., metas that are solved with no data other than the list of puzzle answers themselves) is close to exhausted, so it's nice to have Setec writing a Hunt again to prove that the range is broader than it appears. It's a structurally very simple meta whose quirky theme is the source of its novelty. I don't remember who on my team spotted WAITERS / CLAMP -> WRITER'S CRAMP, but I jumped from there to Operation pretty quick. This meta makes backsolving the rest of the puzzles in it round very easy, as well, which is always fun.

  • A Lengthy Journey. This one was a lot of fun to start, but I think we abandoned it and never finished it after Reid solved this round's meta with four answers. Or at least I never came back to it. Maybe I'll give it another look later.

  • Star Search. The Mystery Hunt in recent years has had a bit of an arms race between techonological tools for identifying music and Hunt writer trying to write puzzles that can't be solved by them. This is a really clever way to write a music puzzle that the solvers are forced to actually do some work to solve, and the fact that there are the same number of constellations as piano keys was a great thing to work into a puzzle. My only contribution to solving this puzzle was to suggest that maybe the constellations could be alhabetized and put into one-to-one mapping with the keys; I'm glad that was right.

  • Rescue the Linguist! I went to this interaction basically strictly because it was about a linguist, and it didn't turn out to be about linguistics at all, but turned out to be one of my favorite puzzles this Hunt. The way it worked was, [livejournal.com profile] dr4b had to type a series of password strings into one computer, and I was across the room at another computer reading them aloud to her, but the passwords were all strings contrived to be very hard to communicate unambiguously orally within the time limit, such as "typethisintwicealluppercaseNOspacesLOWERCASE" or ".dot,comma..commaTHEWORDcommaINQUOTES". Once we got the hang of it we got a rhythm going and I think we were able to get three passwords successfully communicated in only five or six tries. I was really impressed by this as a creative design for an outside-the-box interactive puzzle-like activity.

  • Lead With Hydrogen. This was a fine variety-cryptic to solve; I just wish a puzzle with this title, had been in the Chemist round rather than the Linguist round. I wonder how many teams called in COAX before calling in HOAX.

  • Dot Matrix. There are a bunch of standard character encodings, such as Braille and Morse Code, that always make an appearance at the Mystery Hunt; this puzzle requiring us to read off grids of Morse dots and dashes as Braille characters was an elegant way to combine them. Giving us the puzzle as a dot-matrix printout was a cute touch as well. We didn't actually write on it, for fear of making a mistake.

  • Asymmetry. Not really a fan of this one. The puzzle's gimmick is that the audio clues are phonetically ambiguous, so "It holds the bearing straight" could also be "It holds the Bering Strait" and so on, and then... that ambiguity plays absolutely no role in the puzzle, as far as I can tell? It seems like that was "thrown in just to make it hard", as the joke about the whistling herring goes, which is not very elegant for a Hunt puzzle. And even the answer extraction method depends on spelling, rather than pronunciation!—that's a missed opportunity there. Good unity of puzzle structure and puzzle answer though.

  • The Linguist meta. After solving the Cleric meta, I was like "okay, let's go solve another meta!", and... we did! And then a few minutes after that, someone else solved the Wizard meta; that was clearly our most productive half hour or so of meta solving. Anyway, I saw GERMAN in MANGE very early and considered anagrams of languages minus a letter (the correct answer), but I rejected it because I couldn't see how to make that fit the other answers in the round, such as HOAX. Then I realized that literally the previous day I had played for my Linguistics 200 class a bunch of samples of clicks in Xhosa, and knew I was on the right track. When I got back to Toronto I put this meta on the blackboard in the linguistics department lounge and some of the grad students solved it the next day.

  • How I Spent My Pre/Post-Apocalyptic Vacation. I didn't work on this puzzle at all, but on my way into Cambridge for the Hunt I sat next to someone on the Red Line who said he was on Death and Mayhem, and his dream theme for the Hunt was Fallout 4 because it takes place in postapolcalyptic Boston, and I said, well, if you win, you can use Fallout 4 as the Hunt theme next year, and he did win, but the fact that Fallout 4 takes place in postapocalyptic Boston was used as a puzzle topic this year, so it might not be a good choice of Hunt theme next year. Sorry about that, guy.

  • Marvels of the Ancient World. I didn't work on this puzzle either. I just wanted to say that I admire the chutzpah of having the Seven Wonders game puzzle have the answer SEVEN WONDERS.

  • Upon Reflection. I realize the character-round puzzles were supposed to be easy, but I thought this one was a little too simplistic. You just have to identify the palindromes, read down the middle letters... that's it. I dunno, it just seems like there's not much there there.

  • Cabin Fever. This puzzle is in the classic genre of "a puzzle that you solve the first part of, and then can get stuck on forever because it depends on a piece of media that you've never heard of"—in this case, the radio show Cabin Pressure. I guess I see now why people were so annoyed with the 69 Love Songs puzzle in 2011. We extracted most of the string "EPISODESMJNAIRPLAYEDTHESEGAMES" and assumed we must have made a mistake on the fourth minipuzzle because "SMJNAIR" was obviously gibberish. Anyway, someone else on our team eventually got the reference, and we extracted the answer by Googling episode synopses, and I actually think this was a pretty great puzzle.

  • Changing Rooms. I worked on this one in bed Saturday morning in the hotel! I woke up and was like, hm, let's check hunt status, okay, somebody won, that's weird, any good puzzles open?, aha, a cryptic! But I didn't have paper (or didn't want to get out of bed for it, anyway), so I worked on the clues in parallel with Reid while he did the grid on actual paper. Anyway, this puzzle turned out to be in the genre of "crosswords that turn into Nikoli puzzles", and once that happened I lost interest and got out of bed.

  • Listicle. This one was simple enough that it could have gone in a character round, but we had way more trouble with it than it deserved. It was clear from the get-go how to solve it—there are 22 cats in the song "Jellicle Songs for Jellicle Cats", and 21 cats in the puzzle, so we just had to match them up and see which one was missing—but once we had done that we kept finding we had two cats left over instead of one, no matter how much we double-checked. It took us way too long to realize that somehow we had introduced a spurious cat during the solving process without noticing it; the song doesn't actually contain "grammatical cats".

  • Screen Test. This was one of my favorite puzzles. One that you wouldn't think would be writable in a solvable way, but totally fair and with a great aha moment.

  • Somebody's Watching Me. I didn't work on this puzzle; but it was a little creepy to open up a new puzzle with the title "Somebody's Watching Me" and see that the first image under the title was the building I was in.

  • The Great Gadsby. Another one of my favorite puzzles. I was solving it by hand until Allen pointed out it would be quicker to write a script to check the lipograms. I suspect this puzzle originated title-first; in any event, the title is really clever.

  • Out of the Mouths of Babes. Another clever solution (as well as a hilarious and adorable one) to the "how to we make song lyrics hard to identify?" problem.

  • Typecasting. So the idea here is, two of the actors were in a movie and the third actor's name is a punny clue for the movie in some other way. But in practice the way we solved it was, identify which actor had a name that sounded like it could be a pun, and then look for a movie starring the other two. I think because of that, we missed a lot of how clever the actor-name pun clues actually were (though I did appreciate Minnie Driver for The Italian Job and Mike Rowe for Honey, I Shrunk the Kids at the time).

  • The Chemist meta. Another great pure meta, with a really constrained construction (which made the rest of the round easy to backsolve). It took us a while to stop thinking of the O's as oxygen, though.

  • location.location.location. As soon as I learned about what3words.com, I knew there had to be a Mystery Hunt puzzle based on it, and this is just about the puzzle for that concept. Another one of my favorite puzzles this year. I especially appreciated the use of error-checking clues—"somewhere in Mazovia, Poland" is nowhere near useful for helping you find the clue answers, but it does a great job of confirming whether your answers are right.

  • Capital Punishment. I didn't even know this puzzle existed till just now when I was looking for puzzles to comment on, but I wrote basically the same puzzle for a HRSFA puzzlehunt in 2007.

  • Schoolhouse Rock. Another one of my favorite puzzles. I solved it with Ari, him bringing the music skills and me bringing the sentence diagramming, and we agreed that it would be just solvable with sufficient knowledge of just one of the two fields. It was pretty simple with both of us. Very elegant puzzle design.

  • The Puzzle at the End of This Book. Another adorable puzzle, and a good use of the physical-object puzzle even though the fact that it was a physical object was not relevant to the puzzle itself. We were stuck on answer extraction for a while as a result of misidentifying Don Music as Guy Smiley (who also, coincidentally, has a U in a place that matches SUCCUBUS); I'm a bit embarrassed to state that even after solving the puzzle, I tried to call in an erratum about Guy Smiley rather than realizing I had misidentified the Muppet. Anyway, I seem to have taken our team's copy of the book home for some reason; I'm not sure why I ended up with it, but I'm not complaining.

A few other puzzles I worked on and enjoyed, but have no specific comments on: Get Her! Together!, Net Work, International Holdings, Corporate Chains, Half and Half, Non-Local Anesthetic, and Oh, You!

This was a really excellent Hunt, with almost uniformly clean, elegant, and clever puzzles. Thanks very much to Setec.
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